China is putting ID cards on smartphones

Tencent vs. Alibaba, for the universal ID of Chinese citizens.

Alibaba is adding digital IDs to its payment app in three cities. (Picture: Zhejiang Television)

The national identity card is a vital part of life in China.

While in late 2017 it was unveiled that Tencent was bringing a digital ID system on WeChat for one of China’s largest cities, Guangzhou.

Alibaba’s payment app now doubles as an electronic identity card in three Chinese cities Quzhou, Fuzhou and Hangzhou.

The Future of China’s Digital ID System

Tencent and Alibaba already battle it out for ubiquitous payments and the rich consumer data it entails, now they will compete for cities to on-board the legacy ID card on smartphones.

For the Alipay version, to create a digital ID, users can simply select “Web ID” under “Card Wallet” and scan their faces.

Almost 60% of China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion citizens owns a smart mobile, according to data from eMarketer, while ID cards are issued to every citizen at the age of 16 by the Public Security Bureau.

WeChat is just 7 years old and now has 902 million average daily logged-in users. That’s pretty much, everyone in China with a smart phone.

As mobile native as the young Chinese consumers are, mobile phone penetration is not as universal as you’d think in the large country.


In China, the ruling Tech dynasty has close relationships with the Goverment and their plans for the use of artificial intelligence to favor the state’s stability and fuel economic prosperity. WeChat in this regard, makes the most sense to become China’s electronic ID system.

This national ID card is an official document for personal identification issued by the Public Security Bureau. Having digital IDs just makes sense in the context of China, where social credit rating will be linked to every citizen by 2020.

China’s national ID cards are used for everything from hotel check-in, train ticket reservations, bank account opening and access to social welfare programmes. Being able to host your ID card on Alipay or WeChat allows Chinese citizens more flexibility and even potentially new revenue streams for the Chinese tech duopoly.

Chinese users send 38 billion messages on WeChat’s platform every day.

Tencent and Alibaba battle to secure supremacy the digital ID sector. Image: REUTERS/Mike Segar

New China’s internet is totally separate in many ways from the West, and is even building it’s own hardware ecosystem. China for example has several smart speakers beyond just Tencent and Alibaba, where in the West this is not the case where by and large it’s just Amazon, Google and a new Apple device that can hardly qualify as such.

China’s innovation in the mobile web is showing it will likely be a first mover in the IoE (internet of everything) where Huawei leads in 5G implementation, and Tencent and Alibaba likely have some of the richest consumer data on the planet. A Chinese ID integrated into the mobile app attention economy means New China’s internet will essentially be more streamlined, packed with advanced features and universal convenience.